The Republican gubernatorial race may be ready to claim its first victim ¬— and possibly a second.
Sen. Al Melvin told Capitol Media Services on Friday he is having trouble gathering the necessary $5 donations to qualify him for $753,616 in public funding to run in the GOP primary. Melvin would not say how short he is of the 4,500 separate contributions, but he said if he does not reach that goal by this coming Thursday he will quit the race.
“It's a last call to conservatives,” he said of his plea.
He's not the only one having trouble. The Secretary of State's Office reported Friday that, after verification, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas came up 113 valid names short of what he needs for his public funding.
State law gives Thomas one more shot to supplement the donations to reach his goal.
He said he already has some of the 113 in hand and has sent out a message to supporters urging them to contribute.
But as Melvin noted, time is slipping away for candidates. The verification process to check the names of donors takes time before the Citizens Clean Elections Commission can issue a check.
Potentially more significant, the time to influence voters is running short: While the primary is Aug. 26, Arizonans who get early ballots can start casting them on July 31.
So Melvin said if he can't get the donations in by next week he might just as well tell state election officials to leave his name off the ballot.
Melvin said his inability to get those $5 checks has left him confused. On one hand, he was able to gather nearly 7,900 signatures on his nominating petitions to qualify for the ballot.
“You ask people for their signature and they say, ‘Oh, yeah, I can do that,’” Melvin said. “And then you ask them for $5 and you would think you were asking for $5,000.”
It's not impossible. Secretary of State Ken Bennett, also seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, turned in his donations and already got a check.
But at this point, at least among statewide candidates, he's the only one. Other contenders from both parties for secretary of state, state schools chief, corporation commissioner and mine inspector have yet to qualify.
Melvin speculated that the problem falls in to two areas.
He said some people know little or nothing about the public financing scheme approved by voters in 1998 that allows candidates to qualify for public funds if they agree not to take private donations, whether from lobbyists or others. Funding comes largely from a 10 percent surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.
Melvin said of the voters who are aware of the system, many are opposed to it.
Melvin, however, said it has been a political lifesaver for him. He said he never could have defeated incumbent Sen. Toni Hellon in the 2006 GOP primary without public dollars, though he did lose the general election to Democrat Charlene Pesquiera.
He did have better luck two years later, gaining the Republican nomination over Pete Hershberger and eventually winning the race in November for the seat he has held since.